When John Kerry addressed the media last week following the controversial passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the outgoing secretary of state was tougher on Israel than on the Palestinians, according to David Makovsky, the senior adviser to the State Department during Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2013 and 2014.
“What about the issue of incitement? What about terrorism? What about stopping the Palestinians’ martyrs foundations that fund suicide bombers?” said Makovsky. “The onus shouldn’t be seen as just on Israel.”
Speaking to approximately 1,000 American-Jewish leaders and reporters on a conference call from Jerusalem on Dec. 29, Makovsky, the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, said that Kerry could have been more balanced and even-handed, though he noted that the statesman did criticize the Palestinians for “hundreds of terrorist attacks in the past year including stabbings, shootings, vehicular attacks, and bombings, many by individuals who have been radicalized by social media.”
The call was sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and The Jewish Federations of North America.
Promising to be “down the middle” in his evaluation of the recent actions toward Israel by the Obama administration, Makovsky said “acrimony and differences” between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may have triggered the tone of frustration in Kerry’s remarks.
He called the secretary’s mention of “fully ending” Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank fundamental for the Palestinians. “They need to know the occupation will really end,” said Makovsky. “He basically threw the ball in Israel’s court, saying, ‘When will Israel pull the troops out?’”
In dealing with the issue of the Palestinian demand for the right of return, Makovsky said Kerry “took a middle position” by saying a solution had to be “based on the idea of two states for two peoples,” which is a “more restrictive offer to Palestinians because they like an unrestricted right of return.”
“Israel has to give citizenship to all the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza” if there is to be a two-state solution, he said, calling the situation very difficult.
He said if there is further condemnation of Israel at the 70-nation Middle East Paris peace conference scheduled for Jan. 15, which Netanyahu has said Israel will not attend, or a second anti-settlement vote at the UN, “that is kind of a nuclear bomb of resolutions.”
He said the American abstention on the Security Council’s condemnation of Israeli settlements “might seem a little coy… If you didn’t veto it you supported it because it couldn’t happen without you.”
He referred to the line in the secretary’s speech that “if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace.”
“To be fair to Kerry, I do think that he cares deeply about this and about saving Israel from itself,” Makovsky said. “Kerry has made it clear it wasn’t just Israel…He did mention Hamas rejectionism and Palestinian incitement, but he certainly was more passionate and frustrated by the settlements.”
A questioner told Makovsky “it looks to me like the world is beating up on Israel,” and after that despite all the Obama administration has done to bolster Israel’s security, the president “is going out on a very negative tone.”
Responded Makovsky, “What you’re seeing now with Netanyahu and Obama is all the gloves are off. The bridges are burned, and it is coming more from the Israel side.”
Netanyahu, Makovsky said, is accusing the Obama administration of “orchestrating” the Security Council resolution and then using “some very strong words that would not be used officially if they still had a working relationship… It has gotten highly personal and there is no pretense that it hasn’t.”
Makovsky said he doubted any peace can be achieved in the near future. “But you work toward it,” he said.
Turning to the possible relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Makovsky said such a move would eradicate a “historical injustice” from Israel’s point of view, but the downside is that the Middle East “is not always focused on rationality. Jerusalem is a very emotive issue.”
Though he said that relocating the embassy could put American diplomatic personnel at risk, he suggested trying to soften the blow.
“Give something to the Palestinians, too,” he said. “Maybe there is a creative compensatory package. I don’t know. But we need some creative thinking…to avoid some of the turbulence that could very much be ahead.”
Interspersing sports metaphors throughout his hour-long presentation, Makovsky called on the American-Jewish community to support a “hitting singles” approach to Middle Eastern diplomacy at a time when belting home runs no longer seems possible. “I don’t think anyone believes in a grand deal with Abbas and Netanyahu,” he said.
Asked by NJJN what changes he expected from the Trump administration and its nomination of pro-settlement attorney David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, Makovsky turned to football.
He said an ambassador to Israel “is not the quarterback of the team” but “a wide receiver who catches the ball.” He noted, however, that “the playbook is done in Washington.”